Frequent mishaps mar safety record of Vizag

The Hindu | May 07, 2020

The major accident at LG Chem, a South Korean company, leading to leakage of styrene liquid on Thursday has once again brought into focus the fact that Visakhapatnam, the major industrial hub of Andhra Pradesh, is sitting on a powder keg.

The city known for its topography like a spoon-shaped basin with hill ranges in three sides and the Bay of Bengal on the other, has little scope for an escape route by the two million-plus residents in the event of a major catastrophe. Already, industrial pollution has reached alarming proportions adversely affecting critical mass.

The city was exposed to its worst-ever accident when HPCL Visakh Refinery vapour cloud explosion in September 1997, killing at least 60 persons. Panic buttons were pressed when the oxygen house explosion at Visakhapatnam Steel Plant in 2012, killed 19 persons, including some senior officials.

HPCL Visakh Refinery again hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in August 2013, when the seawater cooling tower collapsed leading to the death of 28 persons. Frequent accidents at Jawaharlal Nehru Pharma City at Parawada, about 40 km from the city, and a few fatal accidents at Hetero Drugs, Divis Laboratory and other industries/clusters had raised serious concern among the denizens.

Deteriorating air ambient quality, rising automobile and noise pollution and occasion reports on fish-kill due to discharge of untreated industrial effluents have always concerns among environmental activists. The city was given a critically polluted tag by the Central Pollution Control Board in its Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index in 2009.

However, the moratorium imposed on greenfield and brownfield projects was subsequently lifted due to improvement in emission norms by the CPCB.
Plans remain on paper

The talk of on and off-site disaster management plans, regular third party inspection and social audit have remained on paper, despite repeated promises by the powers-that-be. “To contain the spate of accidents, regular inspection by the authorities is a must and in case of any lapse the licence for production should be revoked without yielding to any pressure,” Rebbapragda Ravi, an NGO activist, said.